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28 | ecotone hope Poe Ballantine nonfiction The bus broke down in Hope, Arkansas , birthplace of Bill Clinton. I looked out the windows and thought: What an odd name for such a hopelesslooking place. Like Oakland without any oaks. Or Los Angeles without any angels . And the symbolism was not lost on me. The Apostle Paul said: “We walk by faith and not by sight...for we are saved by hope, but hope that is seen is not hope.” So he had probably been here, too. I could tell by the graffiti and the bars on the windows that we were not in the country club part of town. And it was getting dark and would be twenty-eight degrees that night. We all sat there at the intersection, the bus packed, the windows sweating from the breathing of forty bodies. For some reason, all the phone lines were down, too, so no one had been able to call out. The predators skimmed by in their red cars, rap music thumping out the windows. We were a big gray whale washed up on the beach with a bellyful of dumb jewelry and electronic gadgets and twenty-dollar bills. A woman in back began to chant some reedy, ancient spell. A few people got off the bus and wandered away to find a Taco Bell. I rummaged through my case searching for the bag of malt balls I had been unable to find since leaving Memphis. I was headed to Corpus Christi to work on a barge. The backs of my hands were peeling from vanishing oil, and I thought how nice it would be to work for a change around water and sun instead of chemicals and machines. I was for Xelena Gonzalez | 29 also thinking about going to Utah to stay with my spinster aunt Valentine, a classical harpist who for thirty years had played professionally, though I wasn’t sure she was still alive. The preacher from the church across the street came over, boarded the bus, and said we could use the church if we liked. We could also use the phone, he said, though since the outside lines were down we could only call someone in Hope, and not very many of us knew anyone in Hope. One woman with a baby went with the preacher. Vannah, the woman sitting next to me, a Ouachita Indian from Fort Smith, who had some kind of grave respiratory disorder and was on her way to see her sister in Texarkana, tapped the crystal on her watch. The hands had stopped. She listened to it with disbelief. It was a powerful triangulation of events verging into the metaphysical: loss of motion, loss of communication, loss of time. And the driver, Mr. Goofy, as Vannah had dubbed him, didn’t know what was wrong with his bus. The foggy windows now began to drip from the inside. Without ventilation , and including anxiety and many being on the bus without having had showers for a spell, the space quickly became close. A donkey hamburger outhouse smell. Three cop cars drove up, parked, and pointed their spotlights at us. It looked as if they expected trouble. But I wasn’t worried. Loss of communication and loss of time were all right with me. Even the loss of malt balls was tolerable. Breaking down, not being able to get a job, a long rainstorm, these all spelled reprieves for me. I was in no hurry to work on a barge with guys who drank a lot and occasionally killed each other out of boredom, or who were swept away in high swells to be forgotten before their bodies ever washed ashore. I was only slightly irritated with Mr. Goofy, who was out scratching his head and traveling nitwit circles around his conked-out bus. About an hour later someone said the bus from Little Rock, originally supposed to arrive in four hours, had been delayed. Vannah coughed until she honked up a pink clot into her handkerchief . The way I figured it, the Fates had put me on the road to metamorphosis , but before I could be released from servitude I would have to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2165-2651
Print ISSN
1553-1775
Pages
pp. 28-39
Launched on MUSE
2012-10-03
Open Access
No
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